Are Ancient Grains Healthier?

Are Ancient Grains Healthier?
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Ancient wheats like kamut are put to the test for inflammation, blood sugar, and cholesterol control.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

The number one killer in the United States and around the world is what we eat, killing millions more than tobacco. What are the five most important things we can do to improve our diets, based on the single most comprehensive global study of the health impact of nutrition? Eat less salt, eat more nuts, eat more non-starchy vegetables, eat more fruit, and, finally, eat more whole grains.

Any particular type of whole grains? What about so-called ancient grains? Are they any better than modern varieties? Like what about kamut, the so-called mummy wheat, supposedly unearthed from an Egyptian tomb?

After World War II, the wheat industry selected particularly high-yielding varieties for pasta and bread. Over the past few years, though, some of the more ancient varieties have been reintroduced to the market, defined basically as those that haven’t been changed over the agricultural revolutions of the last century.

Nutritionally, einkorn wheat—the oldest wheat—and kamut have more of the eyesight-improving yellow carotenoid pigments, like lutein and zeaxanthin, compared to modern bread and pastry wheat because the pigments have been bred out of bread intentionally. People want their white bread white, but modern pasta flour (durum wheat) maintains much of that yellow hue nutrition.

Yes, modern wheat may have less lutein, but, for example, tends to have more vitamin E. Based on straight vitamin and mineral concentrations, it’s pretty much a wash. They both have lots of each, but the primitive wheats do have more antioxidant capacity––likely due to their greater polyphenol content. But to know if this makes any difference, you have to put it to the test.

If you expose human liver cells to digested bread made out of ancient grains—kamut and spelt (heritage wheat)—or modern strains, and then expose the cells to an inflammatory stimulus, the modern wheat strains seem less able to suppress the inflammation. The investigators conclude that despite the fact that these different grains seem to be very similar nutritionally, they seemed to exert different effects on human cells, “confirming the potential health benefits of ancient grains.” But this was in a petri dish. What about in people?

If ancient wheats are better at suppressing inflammation, what if you took people with irritable bowel syndrome and randomized them to receive six weeks of wheat products make out of ancient wheat—kamut in this case—or modern wheat? Same amount of wheat, just different types. If there’s no difference between the wheats, there’d be no difference in people’s symptoms, right? But, check this out. Here’s how the control groups did on the modern wheat. Switched to the kamut, they experienced less abdominal pain, less frequent pain, less bloating, more satisfaction with stool consistency, and less interference with their quality of life. So, after switching to the ancient wheat, patients experienced a significant global improvement in the extent and severity of symptoms related to their irritable bowel.

What about liver inflammation? The liver function of those with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease randomized to eat kamut improved, compared to those eating the same amount of regular wheat, suggesting kamut is superior. In diabetics, better cholesterol and insulin sensitivity on the same ancient grain. In those with heart disease, better blood sugar control and better cholesterol. Better artery function in those without overt heart disease.

The bottom line is findings derived from human studies suggest that ancient wheat products are more anti-inflammatory, and improve things like blood sugar control and cholesterol. Given that the overall number of human interventional trials is still small, it is not possible to definitively conclude that ancient wheat varieties are superior to all commercial, modern wheat counterparts in reducing chronic disease risk, but the best available data does suggest they’re better if you have the choice.

Regardless of what type of wheat you may eat, word to the wise: don’t eat the plastic bread-bag clip. A 45-year-old guy presents with bloody stools. and this is what their CT scan looked like. Later questioned, the patient admitted to habitually eating quickly without chewing properly.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image credit: 東京/日本 via pixabay. Image has been modified.

Video production by Glass Entertainment.

Motion graphics by Avocado Video.

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

The number one killer in the United States and around the world is what we eat, killing millions more than tobacco. What are the five most important things we can do to improve our diets, based on the single most comprehensive global study of the health impact of nutrition? Eat less salt, eat more nuts, eat more non-starchy vegetables, eat more fruit, and, finally, eat more whole grains.

Any particular type of whole grains? What about so-called ancient grains? Are they any better than modern varieties? Like what about kamut, the so-called mummy wheat, supposedly unearthed from an Egyptian tomb?

After World War II, the wheat industry selected particularly high-yielding varieties for pasta and bread. Over the past few years, though, some of the more ancient varieties have been reintroduced to the market, defined basically as those that haven’t been changed over the agricultural revolutions of the last century.

Nutritionally, einkorn wheat—the oldest wheat—and kamut have more of the eyesight-improving yellow carotenoid pigments, like lutein and zeaxanthin, compared to modern bread and pastry wheat because the pigments have been bred out of bread intentionally. People want their white bread white, but modern pasta flour (durum wheat) maintains much of that yellow hue nutrition.

Yes, modern wheat may have less lutein, but, for example, tends to have more vitamin E. Based on straight vitamin and mineral concentrations, it’s pretty much a wash. They both have lots of each, but the primitive wheats do have more antioxidant capacity––likely due to their greater polyphenol content. But to know if this makes any difference, you have to put it to the test.

If you expose human liver cells to digested bread made out of ancient grains—kamut and spelt (heritage wheat)—or modern strains, and then expose the cells to an inflammatory stimulus, the modern wheat strains seem less able to suppress the inflammation. The investigators conclude that despite the fact that these different grains seem to be very similar nutritionally, they seemed to exert different effects on human cells, “confirming the potential health benefits of ancient grains.” But this was in a petri dish. What about in people?

If ancient wheats are better at suppressing inflammation, what if you took people with irritable bowel syndrome and randomized them to receive six weeks of wheat products make out of ancient wheat—kamut in this case—or modern wheat? Same amount of wheat, just different types. If there’s no difference between the wheats, there’d be no difference in people’s symptoms, right? But, check this out. Here’s how the control groups did on the modern wheat. Switched to the kamut, they experienced less abdominal pain, less frequent pain, less bloating, more satisfaction with stool consistency, and less interference with their quality of life. So, after switching to the ancient wheat, patients experienced a significant global improvement in the extent and severity of symptoms related to their irritable bowel.

What about liver inflammation? The liver function of those with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease randomized to eat kamut improved, compared to those eating the same amount of regular wheat, suggesting kamut is superior. In diabetics, better cholesterol and insulin sensitivity on the same ancient grain. In those with heart disease, better blood sugar control and better cholesterol. Better artery function in those without overt heart disease.

The bottom line is findings derived from human studies suggest that ancient wheat products are more anti-inflammatory, and improve things like blood sugar control and cholesterol. Given that the overall number of human interventional trials is still small, it is not possible to definitively conclude that ancient wheat varieties are superior to all commercial, modern wheat counterparts in reducing chronic disease risk, but the best available data does suggest they’re better if you have the choice.

Regardless of what type of wheat you may eat, word to the wise: don’t eat the plastic bread-bag clip. A 45-year-old guy presents with bloody stools. and this is what their CT scan looked like. Later questioned, the patient admitted to habitually eating quickly without chewing properly.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image credit: 東京/日本 via pixabay. Image has been modified.

Video production by Glass Entertainment.

Motion graphics by Avocado Video.

Doctor's Note

Whole (ideally intact!) grains—ancient and modern alike—are an integral part of my Daily Dozen checklist—the healthiest of healthy things I encourage everyone to try to fit into their daily routines.

They’re especially good for our microbiome:

What about gluten? See:

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

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